Over the past two years, Stony Brook has turned a corner as a football program, and much of the Seawolves’ success has been predicated on their stout defense.

The Seawolves allowed fewer than 20 points in 11 of their 17 victories during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and that trend continued in last Saturday’s 35-10 triumph over fellow FCS program Bryant. Stony Brook finished with a 443-205 edge in total offense in that game and kept Bryant out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.

“Well, I thought we did what I expected us to do, to be honest with you,” said Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore, who is in his 14th year at the helm. “I thought we’d be physical and I thought we’d be more physical than them. I was very happy they weren’t able to run the football (very well).”

The Seawolves will receive a much greater challenge this Saturday when they travel to Logan to square off against Utah State in their road opener. Stony Brook, which has made two straight appearances to the FCS Playoffs, is 1-9 all-time against FBS programs.

Stony Brook is primed to have another strong defensive season as it returns all four of its starting defensive backs, its top rover and three of its starters in the defensive trenches. The Seawolves limited opponents to 20.33 points and 315.3 yards an outing a year ago.

Stony Brook’s defense is anchored by senior defensive tackle Sam Kamara and senior cornerback Gavin Heslop, who have a combined 55 career starts. Kamara recorded 11.5 tackles for loss and a team-best 9.0 sacks a year ago, while Heslop was a second-team all-conference honoree in 2018. Heslop had a big game against Bryant last weekend as he finished with five solo tackles, including 3.0 for a loss, and a sack.

“There is a lot of correlation and ties between Wake Forest defensive coordinator Lyle Hemphill, who used to be at Stony Brook,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “He knows some of the coaches there at Stony Brook. Those ties are evident on film and they’ll get a quality scouting report on us for an offensive breakdown. They have a lot of moving parts, they’re sound, run to the football and play hard. That’s what I’ve seen so far on tape.”

Stony Brook’s other returning starters in the secondary are junior CB TJ Morrison, senior free safety Synceir Malone and junior safety EJ Fineran. Morrison garnered third-team all-league accolades last season, and Malone returned an interception for a touchdown last week against Bryant. Heslop, Morrison and Fineran scored defensive touchdowns in ’18.

Rover Augie Contressa fared well last fall as he contributed with 73 tackles, including 10.0 for a loss, and 3.0 sacks. Another key contributor for the Seawolves is sophomore defensive end Casey Williams, who tallied 11.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks and blocked three kicks as a freshman.

The Seawolves aren’t nearly as experienced on the offensive side of the ball, but they looked pretty sharp against Bryant. Dual-threat quarterback Tyquell Fields made his first career start and completed 10 of 20 passes for 196 yards, one TD and one interception. The junior also rushed for 52 yards and one score on eight attempts.

“Yeah, he was nervous, like I thought he would be going into it — not nervous because of playing, but more nervous because of the expectations of the program,” Priore said. “There’s some pretty important things on his shoulders right now as the starting quarterback. ... Once he settled in he made some good plays, made plays with his feet and threw some big long balls. I mean, he only completed 10 passes, but he had over 190 yards, which if we can replicate every week we will be really good.”

Fields, who Andersen called “athletic,” completed chunk yardage passes of 50 and 47 yards to keep Bryant’s defense honest. The Seawolves amassed 247 rushing yards on 47 attempts in that contest as four of their athletes gained at least 49 yards on the ground.

Stony Brook’s top rusher last week was Isaiah White, who rushed for 243 yards as a true freshman, but was moved to linebacker the next two seasons. White, who redshirted in ’18, scored twice and gained 54 yards on 12 carries against Bryant.

A pair of freshmen, Alex Indelicato and Ty Son Lawton, rushed for 50 and 49 yards, respectively, against the Bulldogs. Stony Brook graduated a pair of senior running backs that combined for more than 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago.

“Stony Brook’s backs are very physical,” Andersen said. “They have no problem coming through that hole a thousand miles an hour. Once someone is in front of them, they’re going to take it head on. They’ve done a very good job with that. The offensive line is efficient with what they do. They run different types of personnel groups at you. You’re going to see old-school football. There are actually two running backs in the backfield sometimes.”

The Seawolves have two very experienced offensive linemen in senior left guard Mason Zimmerman and senior center Joe Detorie. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Zimmerman has made 32 straight starts, and Detorie has 22 career starts under his belt.

Stony Brook’s top wide receiver last week was senior Andrew Trent, who caught three passes for 79 yards. Trent finished with 16 receptions as a junior. The Seawolves also welcomed back senior wideout Nick Anderson, who was in the starting lineup as a junior when he wasn’t sidelined with an injury.

Stony Brook added a very dangerous offensive and special teams weapon in the offseason in Bryant graduate transfer Jean Constant, who was a two-time All-American as a return specialist. During his time at Bryant, the 5-9, 180-pounder hauled in 107 receptions for 1,336 yards, and racked up a whopping 1,694 yards as a kickoff/punt returner.

The Seawolves’ punter is junior Mitchell Wright, who is the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Wright. Wright averaged 43.0 yards on six punts against the Bulldogs, and placed three of them inside the 20-yard line.

jturner@hjnews.com Twitter: hjtrebek

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.